November 12th 2015
Story originally written and experienced: August 29th 2011
“I need to do something first.”
I said to myself as I packed up my bags and headed back to my hometown.
I put a II pause II on New York City.
I needed to do something first.
I took two weeks off
in between internships. To reset really quick before reattempting this social-status driven city again, crossing my fingers I’d survive it at least a year.
I needed to have dinner.
With my mom. Ask her questions while I ate her homemade food, cross-legged at the kitchen table with a side ponytail on my head, all while she attempted to explain that one thing called life.
“Do you think things will work out for me?” I asked her pushing around my dumplings on my plate with chopsticks. “Did you always know things would work out for you?”
She smiled, wet a blue wash cloth, wiped down the dinner table and then told me this:
“I didn’t. But. I sort of did…I figured out a way to figure it out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yes…” I said eagerly awaiting the story she’d say next:
“Well, I boarded a boat with my mom, dad and nine brothers and sisters, and we left because your grandpa was scared of the mandatory military draft that was enacted in our country.
So we fled as a family.
Tried to start a life somewhere new. And I remember the ride over there being weird and exciting. And I remember we even made a quick stop in Africa on our way, and we saw so many animals!
But I also remember realizing, I had no idea where we were going.
But then we were arrived.
And I guess we were in Paraguay.
We didn’t have much, but to others, we had way more than most. Shoeless kids from all around town used to
l i n e u p at my house
just asking to see the ice cubes we had made in our fridge. They thought we were rich! Yet, all the while, my mom was in the kitchen cooking meals for her ten children over an open fire.
It’s all we had.
But we were happy.
Dad knew he didn’t want to stay in Paraguay. It was just the first real stop on the boat, so we got off. And then one day he said, ‘I want to take all of you to Argentina—Buenos Aires—we can accomplish great things there.’ So, sure enough, in one year our huddle of twelve packed up the few belongings we did have:
Left the ice cubes behind and headed
South to make Dad’s dreams come true.
But here’s the thing.
When we got there…we realized the hard way that:
Not one of us knew how to speak Spanish.
My teacher would scream at me all the time. She was so mad that I couldn’t understand anything she was saying. But, I was only eight! I had only ever known Korean. And now. Suddenly. I found myself in a different country, in a room full of strangers, failing out of school.”
“But, you didn’t know! You didn’t ask to be in that situation!”
“I know. But I had to adapt and make the best of it. What other choice did I have? That being said…the first time I tried to do that? It didn’t go well.”
“Why, what happened?”
“Well one day that same teacher who would always scream at me, passed out blank paper flags to the class. She wanted us to decorate it the colors of the Argentinian flag—blue and white—but, I could never understand a single thing she was saying anyway, so I had no idea, and decided to do my own thing. I thought ‘this is the moment to prove myself to her!’ So, I started coloring it all of these really bright colors. Blue, green, yellow,—everything, and I couldn’t wait to show her…but when I did? She screamed again. Told me I was stupid.
(At least I’m pretty sure that’s what she said.)
And I figured that’s what happened when I saw everyone in my class pointing and laughing at me—relentlessly.
I was only eight years old.
And as an eight year old.
I would do something about it.
So I learned Spanish. Really quick. And well.
In the end.
I was the valedictorian of my class.
I was smart. But I hit a roadblock. I was discriminated against. But I didn’t let it hinder me. Because there were things I wanted to do.
I was different. Started at a disadvantage. But hiding behind my genes and skin color felt like a lame excuse to not have the things I wanted.
If you’re good at something.
Then you’re good at it.
And if you work for things.
You deserve them.
By this time my side ponytail had turned into a big bun. I was so immersed in my mother’s story, I’d spilled soy sauce on my shirt and had to retie my hair from all the head-shaking-in-disbelief I had to do.
She did it anyway.
She was put in an oddly impossible situation.
And just decided to make it possible one.
Because she wanted to. And because she could.
The next day I boarded a plane.
This time going the reverse direction.
And feeling the reverse way.
Knowing this was likely one of many times in my life I’d be doubtful, unsure and a little freaked out about what would happen next.
The first of many times I’d have the confidence, example and proof I could figure it out anyway.
Because if she could do it.
Then why couldn’t the rest of us too?